Sometimes we (or our colleagues) don’t always deliver material in ways that expedite note-taking. We may not be able to take class time for a session on note-taking but all of us can probably find time to distribute a handout that students might find helpful. Consider this classroom management strategy, a slightly condensed and modified version of material that appears in the reference below. These are research-based recommendations.
The dos and don’ts of taking notes
Should I recopy my notes after class?
No, because recopying requires little or no thinking. Your time could be better spent writing questions and answers about the material in your notes.
Should I record the lecture with a tape recorder?
Generally, no. Re-listening takes a lot of time and in most cases, other, less time consuming, ways of reviewing and organizing the material are just as effective. The only possible exception here might involve students for whom English is not the primary language. Re-listening for these students aids comprehension and improves language skills.
Should I try to listen and not write when the instructor is discussing something I don’t understand?
No, the best advice is to keep taking notes. Leave blank spaces if you are missing content and question marks to indicate that you are just copying something down but don’t really understand what it means. Most instructors would happily entertain a question whenever something is unclear. If you don’t ask then, when you review your notes, see if another student can help you understand this material or ask your instructor to re-explain it to you then.
What should I do if the professor talks so fast, I can’t get everything written down?
Are you trying to write down everything the professor says word for word? Try not to do that—paraphrase, listen for the most important things the professor says, and leave blank spaces to indicate that you have missed some material you thought was important. Check the notes of a classmate and see if they got the material down.
What should I do if my mind is always wandering while the professor is talking?
Sit in the front of the room. Being close to the professor helps students pay attention. Ask a question. If your mind wanders, make it a short side trip. Get back to what’s happening in class quickly. Try paying really close attention to those parts of the lecture that are most important. When does the instructor convey the most important material? Make sure that you are paying attention then.
How do I deal with an instructor who constantly wanders off the topic?
If the instructor is not well organized, see if the textbook can help. Does it identify the most important principles? Does it structure the material so that it makes sense and logically hangs together? In situations like these, it really helps to work with other students. Form a small study group and spend time organizing notes from class. What does everyone think the most important ideas were? How does one idea relate to another?
Sometimes the instructor uses words I don’t know how to spell. What should I do?
Write the words as they sound. Follow the word with the notation “sp?” which should signal you when reviewing that you need to find out from a fellow classmate, the text or a dictionary how to spell a word.
Adapted from: Dembo, M. H. Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000, pp. 176-77.